Ten Useful Literacy Concepts and Terms


The information below has been directly pasted in from a Word Document, which can be downloaded by clicking on the link, highlighted in Blue



Definitions and Examples of Concepts/Terms/Strategies

for all Developmental Reading and Writing Courses

Below is a short narrative paragraph from the Hani/Akha folklore of Southern Yunnan, People’s Republic of China. The Hani and Akha tribes are indigenous to this area.

Ten terms, concepts, and strategies that are crucial as tools to Academic Literacy are presented below the paragraph, along with illustrative examples created from the content of the paragraph. You need to present similar definitions and examples, using transition words and phrases and other idea-connecting language tools, on the Midterm, the Final, and at different times throughout the semester.

These terms, concepts, and strategies are intended to provide you with reference points and methods (i.e., language/literacy-learning tools) to guide you in creating your own definitions and examples from a variety of sources, and improve comprehension and critical thinking across the Applied Technologies and Academic/Professional Disciplines.

Two Akha Brothers Divided a Turtle

Translated and Compiled by Bai Bibo (click on the link at the bottom of this page to follow along with Mr. Bai as he reads this story in the Hani Orthography)

Long ago, two Akha brothers went up into a forest to hunt game for making their living. The two had shot a turtle. But because the two of them could not cut open the turtle, nor could they divide it between them, they quarreled with each other without stopping. The two could not think of a way to deal with this issue. At that very moment, they bumped into a man there. Therefore they let him be their go-between. The man was supposed to divide the turtle for them.

But the two Akha brothers were not going to stop their quarreling yet. The elder brother said that he wanted the head. The younger one argued that he wanted the tail.

Since the elder brother wanted the head of the turtle, the go-between cut it off and gave it to him. Since the younger brother wanted the tail, the go-between cut off the tail and gave it to him. The go-between himself took the remainder of the turtle, and as quickly as possible, he ran away and disappeared in the forest.

It is said that the two Akha brothers stood there and stared at each other blankly.

1. Context: Context means the surroundings of a word or place; the environment; the background, the stage/setting in which activity takes place. An example from everyday life is the context of home, work, school, a bar, a casino, church, etc. For each place, we usually talk, act, and may dress differently.  To judge context, it is useful to begin to ask yourself wh-questions (i.e., who, what, where, when, why, how)

The story happened very long ago, which the reading explicitly states. The context would be a forested place in China where two brothers were hunting as their work. Another related context, which could be inferred from the reading, could be a family quarrel and business relationships that are imbalanced.

2. Voice: Voice refers to the point of view (i.e., perspective) that the writer/creator of the text is creating about the topic, objects, place, process, and other features of presenting information in writing, films, music, poetry, video-games, lectures, etc. Three well-known categories of voice are first person, which can be identified through the use of “I” “us” “we”; second person, which can be indentified through the predominance of “you,” as if the writer is talking directly to the reader. “How to. . . ” manuals often use second person voice, talking directly to the reader, such as, “To lose weight, you should avoid fatty foods and exercise.” Third person normally uses they, it, them, and puts the topic at a kind of “objective distance”.  Third person is probably the most common type of voice in the in postsecondary education contexts.

An example of first person voice would be if one of the brothers said to another: “Hey, I want my half of the turtle, now.” This sentence uses “I.”

An example of second person voice would be if the narrator said: “Now I am going to introduce you to the two Akha brothers so you won’t argue with your brothers over things that should be shared.”

An example of third person voice is evident in the story, which uses “they,” and other word-categories.  The writer here is creating an objective distance from the topic.

3. Purpose: Three main purposes are identified in most Literacy texts. These are: To Inform; To Persuade, and; To Entertain. Try to keep in mind that all three are often present to differing degrees (I also think that more purposes will be defined in the coming years as Literacy becomes much more dynamic and technology and the human mind continues to evolve).

For example, many cultural myths and fables (including modern day TV shows, movies, and video games) are intended to inform about history, persuade folks to behave in a certain way, and finally, intended to be entertaining in some way.

Although I have not spoken to Mr. Bai Bibo, the translator, about which three purposes are predominant for this Akha tale, I think it’s safe to say that it is fairly balanced between all three. The story informs the reader of what happens when two brothers disagree in kind of a selfish way, and what happens when they trust a stranger and do not think about a transaction carefully.  I also think that the story is intended to persuade the reader not to behave the way the brothers do. Finally, if you can imagine this as an oral tale, you can imagine someone telling this tale around the table or hearth long ago.

Over the years, students have differed in their opinions on whether the middleman was “honest” versus the view that the two brothers were just plain gullible.

4. Tone: This is the “feeling” a Reading or other type of text conveys and is perceived by readers (the writer’s intention might not always match what the reader perceives). For example, we might think of the following adjectives to describe the Tone of a text: Sad; Happy; Serious; Comedic; Tragic, Sarcastic. The list is endless.

As in any of the other concepts and terms presented here, a Reading or any other type of text rarely has one Tone and Purpose; these are multiple and overlap in creative, exciting ways.

We could easily find enough evidence to argue that the Two Akha Brothers story is serious and a bit comedic; a kind of Tragic-Comedy, evidenced by the kind of understated shock the two brothers exhibit at the end of the story when the narrator writes:

“It is said that the two Akha brothers stood there and stared at each other blankly”

5. Audience: This is generally thought of as whom the Author was thinking about when they created the Text. Did the Author have a specific Reader to whom they were writing? Was the text created for an intimate love, as in a Valentine, or for the World, as in a declaration of war? For the Two Akha Brothers story, enough evidence can be found to argue that the original story might have been for other Akha; but now, with this and other translations by Mr. Bai and Dr. Lewis, the Audience is wider than the tribe, and some of the messages that are implied in this story can surely be applied to family relationships, business, and commerce.

6. Two Guide Questions for Creating Main Idea Statements:

The purpose of these two guide questions is to provide a reference point to begin to comprehend any type of text. These are well-known questions used in many Literacy texts. These are followed with short brain-storm types of responses, which are then used to build sentences.

1. What is the topic? Business

2. What does the Author want you to know?  Be careful who you trust; don’t be selfish

For the Two Akha Brothers story, possible statements of the Main Idea might be:

When one enters into business relationships, particularly with family, be careful of disagreements. When people argue over small possessions, they might become gullible and make bad business decisions. 

Of course, many variations of the above statements can be made.

7. Inference (text implicit): Inference refers to the process of making a judgment based on some type of evidence; a statement about the unknown based on the known (i.e. evidence) (from S. I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action (2nd ed.) p. 41)

In the reading passage, it could be inferred that the brothers did not have a knife because the passage states: “But because the two of them could not cut open the turtle…” Specifically, the passage says, “could not cut open”. This quoted phrase is evidence that they did not have a knife.

8. Literal Information (text explicit): This is information taken from the reading with as little interpretation as possible. In other words, some type of information that we would not necessarily question, for example, a basic fact, like a person’s height or weight, or where he/she was born. This is literal; not to be confused with the expression, “taking something literally,” like if I asked someone to “go jump in a lake”, and he/she immediately jumped into a car and kept driving until finding a lake and jumping into it.

The reading passage states that the two brothers “went up into the forest hunt game.” This is clearly stated and seems to be a fact, explicit information.

9. Skimming and Scanning: Skimming refers to reading for general information. Scanning is looking for specific information. An example of skimming from the reading would be to answer the question: To which indigenous tribe do the two brothers belong? Just looking over the document, along with the title, it can be easily seen that the brothers belong to the Akha tribe. An example of scanning would be looking for something very specific, like how many times does the Reading use the word Akha; or, finding very specific detail in the story, such as the term used to describe the man who showed up to help the brothers divide the turtle: “the go between.”

10. Chunking: Chunking refers to dividing a sentence into parts, such as dividing it into phrases and clauses; dividing at conjunctions and/or prepositions, or any other part of the sentence that makes it more comprehensible to you. An example of this is this sentence from the story:

“The go-between himself/ took the remainder of the turtle/, and as quickly as possible/, he ran away/ and disappeared into the forest”

In the above sentence, slash marks “chunk” the sentence into phrases 

An area of southern Yunnan, People’s Republic of China, where the Hani/Akha tribes live and a place where the story might have occurred.


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